Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mt. Purgatory Traverse: Uncovering More of An Awesome Benguet

Somewhere in the northern Philippines lies a not so popular hiking destination that the Cordillera region can also boast of, apart from its famous and majestic Mt. Pulag. In one particular weekend in March of this year, I have allowed myself to discover this and more of Cordillera mountains. It's called Mt. Purgatory. 

Sounds scary, right? The name of this mountain seems to give an impression that it’s like you’ll be journeying to a place which could end you up with either a heaven or a hell.

When I also first heard about this, it sounded like a weird thing to me. But before making any false assumption, let me erase the spine-chilling impression in your mind. Otherwise, you will never unleash the beauty of this other side of Benguet. 

Yes, I’ve been to Benguet again! Although not widely known yet to many, this climb I guess is indeed one of the jewels of hiking tourism in the said province.

A hike in Purgatory had never been included in my bucket list. Interested I am, yet still I wasn’t that interested at first. Being fresh from Kibungan Circuit climb last February (which is also in Benguet), I was thinking then that Purgatory would be just like any other Benguet mountains that I used to see.   My climbing buddy opened the idea of climbing it. Later on, I got convinced. Primarily fueled by wanderlust and itchy feet for another hike, I was finally led to excitement and at the same time, curiosity. I asked myself, "Why not discover for myself why it was called Purgatory and why stop myself from discovering something new?" In the first place, it’s in Benguet. I have always loved Benguet mountains! I guess it was also timely to take advantage of the good season for having zero typhoon possibility coming to the northern Luzon. Oh yeah, ironically, it's summer but there was a typhoon in Mindanao during that time.

By the way, I used the phrase “something new” as Purgatory climb is still relatively new as of this writing.  Though it was reached already by few climbers in the past, according to our guide, they officially began promoting and opening it to the climbers in 2011 only.

All About the Traverse

Actually, the complete title of this climb event is Mt. Purgatory-Mangisi traverse. So let me clarify what I just mentioned previously, it's not just one mountain. In this climb, one will be reaching a series of mountains in Bokod town highlighting the major ones – Mt. Pack (2,290 MASL), Mt. Purgatory itself (2,080 MASL) and  Mt. Kom-kompol (2,329 MASL).  Apparently, this hike is a major one -- a  traverse which starts from Japas jump off point to Brgy. Ekip of the mentioned town.

These mountains lie between two majestic and popular mountains, Mt. Pulag to the west and Mt. Ugo to the east. Surrounded by these wonderful mountains, surely the mountains comprising Purgatory traverse hold a promise of wondrous and picturesque views too.

This is Monique, a good friend of mine, who walked at this trail for the first time as it was her first ever major climb.

So why Purgatory? I did some research before the actual climb and based on some write ups, the story goes like this: During the American occupation in the Philippines, an American who was assigned to the relay station in this mountain found himself suffering from too much cold temperature along with difficulty in ascending. During our actual climb, I asked the same question to the guide and he responded with the same story.

Based on the doctrine of the Catholic Church, purgatory is an in-between state after physical death wherein those bound to be in heaven must be purified first so as to achieve the required holiness. Perhaps the purification here is being associated to the difficulty and coldness that the mountains give.

The Traverse Proper

What we did was an overnight weekend climb. Leaving Manila Friday night and arriving in Baguio City the following day at dawn, we had arranged beforehand a chartered jeepney to transport us to Bokod. The transfer from Baguio City to Bokod is just like the normal scenario when having  a Pulag climb via Ambangeg trail. After three hours, we were already at the jump off point in Japas. It was where our guide and porters met us. Before we officially start, we were given an orientation about the traverse -- what to expect on the trail; how long will it take; do’s and don’ts and many more. Here’s the illustrative map of the entire traverse that they have shown us.  It was great to know that the mountain is being managed well in terms of accepting climb events. Proper arrangement of the guideship is really being done. This is administered by Association of Bokod Adventure Ecoguides (ABADEG). Not all mountains in the Philippines are like in this case wherein climbers are given briefings first incuding the reminder of the cliche rule of Leave No Trace (LNT).

The whole trek is more or less a total of  thirty kilometers. The first types of trail that we encountered are more of open and wide ones. Established it may be, but it’s generally an ascending trail. It was a typical assault that can be so tiresome. 

It was sad to know that during that particular weekend, forest fire was fresh and rampant, evidenced by the ashy pine forest.

I asked the guide about it. He said, it was because of the little fire that was started by some of the locals but wasn’t able to  be stopped for the reason that the fire has already scattered before any remedy. The smell of these ashes added inconvenience  to us.  It was a bit a "not-so-good something" to be inhaled as we struggle to ascend. I hope proper attention will be paid by the authorities to avoid extreme circumstance of this.

We passed by a school and some villages at Sitio Mangagkew. There was an on-going medical mission during that time and we witnessed how the locals there normally ascend mountains and literally walk lengthy trails just to reach the school. 

The mountain by the way is a home to many tribal groups.

As you may see, SUVs can ascend the mountain up to this village because of the wide established trails. Even the motorcycles can pass by the slightly wide mountain roads.

It was both extremely sunny and windy during that fateful Saturday. I was unaware of the complete information about the weather. What I only knew was there was a storm hitting the southern Philippines and  I have this theory that in one way or another, the northern part of the country was affected.

Past Mangakew in which we have already walked by more than three kilometers, we took our lunch break and stayed for an hour at a nearby empty hut where water source is available. Resting for a longer time was not that good as the cold wind was sometimes not bearable. It was the wind that made the day cold even in the presence of the sun. 

In our continuous trek, we found  one shelter or waiting shed after each and every few kilometers that we walked. It was a trail of combined assault and steady trekking.

After pushing more, the trails were becoming foggy and I saw the transition from the open and  pine-forested trail that we’ve been to the next level of mountain vegetation. True enough, we saw the signage going to Mt. Purgatory and shoot! We finally entered the mossy forest!

We then walked a tolerable yet still breath catching assault. It was all mossy forest. If compared to the other mountains I’ve been, this one I think cannot be labeled as a very rich one but still it’s a simple forest with trees coated by moss themselves that are basically enough to be called mossy. In the womb of the wilderness, I couldn’t still help but wonder on all that I saw.

We finally reached the first leg of the traverse: Mt. Pack or Mt. Banshila. 

The trails being covered and foggy seemed to be so gloomy. It continued to be so until Mt. Purgatory. The trail from Pack to Purgatory is fairly easy. I guess because the former is higher than the latter. Nonetheless it still took us less than two hours to reach the highest point of Mt. Purgatory. 

As we  continue,  I have observed that we were walking on a ridge, though not that visible since everything side by side is all forest. It was a very lengthy walk from Mt. Purgatory to the next target which was the elementary school of Bakian where we can stay for a night. Most overnight climbs are normally done by staying in that school and hikers do not mind bringing tents anymore. However, in our case, we originally planned to set camp in Sitio Tangbaw to get the most out of this climb and enjoy the view upon rising the next morning. But due to the coldness of the wind and the fact that we were behind our itinerary already,  I think it was a wise decision to stay in that school  We arrived there at 6:30P.M.

We were perfectly sheltered and safe enough in that school. With convenience, we prepared our dinner and after some socials, there, lights out!

I believe all of us did not have a continuous, deep sleep as it was terribly cold. The wind was drastically moaning and creating disturbing sounds through the roof of the school building. We were really thankful though that we got a good shed. How much more if we decided to settle on the campsite barely with our tents? We could have been chilling to death that night.

We faced the next morning with grayish white surroundings and it was still terribly cold.

As the morning progresses, the fog was gradually wiped out by the rising sun. 

When we started our trek for that day, it was already clear yet the sound of the wind was still there. We reached the Tangbaw village after less than thirty minutes, we left our things at the house of one of our guides and proceeded to the last leg of this traverse --- the ascent to Mt. Kom-kompol.

Five of us decided to stay and wait while the rest, including me, continued. 

We kept going and reached the campsite where we supposed to stay in the previous night. The sun was totally up and the sky was clear that a good view of Baguio, Pulag, and Timbak can be seen there.  

Our guide seemed to make us hesitant as the mountain that we would be heading at was foggy. He said that there could be no view up there. But we insisted to continue as we were after reaching the summit anyway.

Lo and behold, after trekking both under sunny trails and assault type mossy forest, we were given a good clearing at the view deck of Mt. Kom-kompol.

What was more amazing was when Mt. Pulag cleared up and its astounding unique grassland was shown to us from afar. It was so beautiful.

The guide also told us the possibility of traversing from Purgatory to Mt. Pulag. Buddy Dennis was interested about doing that. The guide told that so far, no climbers has done that except for the locals/hunters. We went back to Tangbaw tired but fullfilled and with a good smile. We stayed for more than an hour there for an early lunch. Afterwards, we moved and took on the rolling, descending pine forested trail similar to Mt. Ugo. 

But wait, the abundant pine trees here were differently amazing. There were so many of them appearing golden, organized and stretching high.

As we continued to descend, we had  struggles this time: steep terrains challenging our knees the hard way, coupled with too much sun exposure as most of the trails are open.

After such kilometric descent, we reached the end point marking the completion of the traverse. We were picked up by the van (as the chartered jeepneys were no longer available). We were comfortably relieved. The van picked us up that even let us crossed a river. However, we still dropped by at the hanging bridge over Agno river to take some pictures.

It was an epic traverse that perhaps let us experienced the foretaste of the real purgatory. Though the entire traverse can be really considered as major climb and somewhat tough, it is still a must-climb and a must-discover one for everyone. For me, it has always been a fun hike to feast on the beauty of Benguet province.

*Credits to Qitter Abiog for some of the photos
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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Memories Behind the Gears

I was cleaning up the room that I share with my sisters one usual Saturday. I happened to spot both my travel and climb gears as I fix each of them. It seems like they’re gradually and continuously conquering the little space in my closet. Honestly, every time I see them increasing and occupying space, I feel some sort of stress and I would remind myself to stop buying more. They’re enough! I guess I have all the basic hiking needs. Then I looked back and said, “These are just one of the concrete outcomes of what I’ve wanted and dreamed a few years ago." And so, they represent my being – having embraced this hobby. And I’m just an individual who fell in love with this kind of outdoor activity. And these make me feel I really have enough. I got those good memories and experiences. 

So I came up to this idea of posting the status of my gears in my blog. Nearly 4 years that I’ve been doing this found passion – hiking/mountaineering. So far, I’ve got all these stuff. I was wondering how they are doing so far.  Are they still capable of sustaining me through the climb?  Which one lasted for a long time? Is there any of them which can just afford for only one more climb and after which, will eventually retire? So which one appears to be retiring soon? Which appears to be the most reliable? Which one promised to be of good quality even if it was bought for a cheaper price.  Which one of them made me regret and tell myself, "I wish I hadn’t bought it."  Yes, I know. I know, I wouldn’t be in a better position to discuss about this as I don't have the most extravagant brands.

Well, this post aims every climber reader to realize how far they’ve gone in mountaineering in respect of what they have so far, not merely in number but in a deeper sense. These are just tangible things but if you look back and refresh those memories when you were using them, they remind you of those beautiful journeys; those laughter along the trail; those memorable events, those moments when your team asked you to carry the canned goods mainly for the reason that you got a good space in your long pack,  which made your bag heavier making the trek a little bit irritating; those moments when you almost give up pursuing a summit or when you regret that you wore that sandals or shoes that made your trekking uneasy; or a broken gear which reminds you of the cliff in a certain mountain.

Do you have any gears that you swore not to wear anymore after making your climb burdensome?

Do you have any gear you generously gave to your climbing buddy or to anyone that became your companion in a memorable climb event?

Are you a recipient of useful mountaineering gears?

Did it happen that you just had a very great climb and yet it meant sacrificing or losing a favorite gear and it would just remain in such mountain hoping that somebody can return it to you?

Have you sacrificed a gear because you saved someone?

One of the reasons that mountaineering appears to be pricey (aside of course from the actual and frequent joining of the events) is the gears that are being used. Oh I remember when I was new to climbing, I heard those hikers frequently asking, “ser, ‘kano score mo dyan?”(sir, how much did that gear cost you?) every time they learn something newly acquired by his/her companion in the climb. Gear is a crucial concern in mountaineering. Gears can sustain. Proper gears can save a life. Gears can give you the comfort and delight but can also mean hurting your pocket.

It’s time to check and look back!

1. Bags for all Season

I am biased with a particular backpack! I only have one beloved backpack which accompanied me through sunny and stormy climbs of my life.

The North Face (TNF) Borealis above was bought in May 2011 from a seller. Up to now, I am still in doubt if this is really original or a mere Class A one although the seller assured me that the silver tag inside of it is tantamount that I bought an original one. Or maybe I wasn’t able to scrutinize it that time. But if you ask me now, I don’t care anymore. For eveyone’s information, it has ascended more than fifty mountains including one international climb (Mt. Kinabalu)

It has always been my choice to carry this one even for a 3 or 4 day climb. It’s enough for me. It has always been making my trip/climb a convenient one. Can you see, I am just light backpacker that does not mind bringing any suitcase? To cite, this one even became a convenient reliable bag in my 3D2N Hongkong trip.

Unfortunately, it has started to get old that currently, it’s black material coating the top handle has started to strip. Perhaps it’s because of too much sun exposure in every trek. But I guess it is still capable of giving me more than two climbs.

Another one below is my one and only long pack, a 45liter +10liter Karrimore brand which I bought in February 2011(buying it in original price slashed my pocket that time). Conversely, I learned to make my things intact by bringing only the essential ones so I managed to have light backpacking in almost all of my trips. Having a good buddy which shares the same madness in mountaineering is also a great advantage since distribution of things is better managed. That is why, as you can see in the photo, the said long pack is left hanged in the corner of our room for a long time. The last time I used it, which means I myself carried it, was on our Luzon321 climb. And the last time I brought it was to make it a porter bag in our Mindanao123 event.

Sometimes, I think of selling it but this bag was the very first backpack I gave to myself when I started in mountaineering. And I find it comfortable to carry.  If it weren’t for light backpacking, I would surely use it often.

The next one is just perfect to be used on a dayhike.  It’s a Conquer dayhike backpack which is very convenient for a dayhike as it’s size is fairly small.  It was acquired in the first quarter of 2012. Recently, it got repaired and put back to Conquer Outdoorshop because of broken coating of its back strap (thankful to a lifetime warranty that the Conquer offers.

2. Shoes ko po!

The first time I got to join a climb in November 2010, I already bought a pair of Merrell shoes. Because it was in 2011 that I started to be active including Ambaguio-Akiki climb, it only lasted for 10months.

I shifted to a different brand when my climbing Buddy Dennis gave me an advance birthday gift in October 2011. It was a white Salomon trekking shoes with violet linings.  I was convinced it was a very good brand. I maximized the use of it for more than a year. This one that lasted for 18months has gone to more than 5 major climbs including Luzon 321 in October 2011, Mt. Sicapoo in February 2012, Mt. Amuyao, Mt. Napulauan and Mindanao 123 in the middle of the year, and Mt. Guiting-guiting in Oct 2012. These shoes even promised me a safe trek for the second time when I returned to Sicapoo in February 2013. These were the major mountains that this pair of Salomon shoes never failed me. For safety reasons, I decided to have the shoes retired by March 2013.

Hey hey hey! I bought a new Salomon pair below in April 2013 from Xplore outdoorshop wherein I was given a discounted price for the new design that just came out during that time. Currently, this pair is still alive and kicking. Hmmm, probably, because my climbs were lessened. Yet this one reminds me of the memories of my Mt. Halcon and Mt. Kinabalu climb.

Hoping this one will still accompany me for many more years ahead.

3. Trekking Pants and Shorts for Keeps

What I am proud of the most is this convertible Columbia trekking pants (the khaki one below) that I was tempted to buy from R.O.X. in June 2011. For an original price that I didn’t mind that time whether it’s on sale or not, I was merely delighted that it was perfectly fit to me. So far, it is still fine and has no damage. I managed not to buy more trekking pants because for me, this one is enough.

The blue one above was another present given to me by buddy Dennis, a locally-made Lakambini blue pants but seems to be wobbly to me in trekking but because of the kind of cloth it was made, I prefer to use it during cold camping nights.

Would you believe this one below cost me for only Php150.00? Yes it’s a dark grey TNF trekking shorts that we luckily spotted at a nearby Ukay-ukay store (garage sale/hand-me-down or preloved items). And it's even packable. I usually wear shorts along with tights when the mountain is more of bouldering type. That is why, this TNF was the one I used during our Mt. Guiting-guiting traverse.

I almost forgot to post this Lakambini trekking pants which was also a favorite of mine because of the blue color. I found it quickly dries during the river crossing in our Mt. Sicapoo traverse.

4. Oh I remember these Shirts!

I preferred the dri-fit shirts over any other cotton-made ones.

> A red-violet/pinkish (kikay color) that I bought in August 2011 from a Landmark store. It is a shirt with zipper in front which I think promotes a way to breathe better when you want to get loosened up every time you had a 15-minute trek break.

> This dri-fit was bought from a good friend in December 2011, Sha Bedural, in her advocate to help her sick friend through the sale proceeds. I love its tag: “I will help protect the mountains.”

> These two pinoy mountaineer long sleeve-dri fit shirts that I bought in the previous year were the recent ones that I often use because I won’t be needing any arm warmer as compared to wearing short-sleeves. What I also love about them is that it’s breathable and comfortable. I bought the dark blue first and then after 3 or 4 months, I bought the royal blue one. The royal blue is thicker, and so I prefer to use it in mossy forest treks.

> Below is a collection of shirts from various climb events or souvenir shirts:



5. Jackets to Keep Me Warm

I don’t have a fleece jacket but I have long sleeves that I bought from Ukay-ukay. I coupled them up with any of my jackets below. 

> This dark green jacket was a Mango brand and really thick enough to sustain me in the coldness. I bought it in Baguio City’s popular area of Ukay-ukay stores in August 2011 for only Php300.

See, it even looked trendy and useful during our cold HK-Macau trip.

> The next one below was an anniversary present to me by Buddy Dennis in 2013, a brand new aqua blue Mountain Hardware jacket.

Oops, I also have this blue Columbia jacket. Bought in a Mountaineer’s Night event for only Php600, it was a birthday present to me.  It’s thin, packable and I usually wear it in mountains that are not that cold. 

6. Wondering if My Sleeping Bag Really Sleeps.. Just Cracking a Corny Joke! ^_^
Well, I guess I was fortunate enough to instantly have one. I found it at the end point of our Napulauan Traverse in Hungduan, Ifugao. I failed that time to find the owner. For anyone, who still recognizes this, you may approach me and claim it back (provided you can prove it's really yours). It’s a Bratz-printed, purple sleeping bag. ;)

7. Trekking Sandals: A Pair of Realiable buddies

The Tribu Sandals were reliable ones.  Especially during major climbs, I make sure that I bring this pair even if it seems to cause my backpack heavier for the reason that it’s the next one I can rely on in case my shoes failed me. At least it can sustain the terrains as compared to the case that I only bought ordinary slippers as an alternative. This was also already the second pair that I bought after the first one was stolen in Mt. Tapulao in February 2012.

8. Cover Me Up, Rain Cover!

I consider this one as the most used of all -- my packable rain cover that protects my backpack. It's Conquer tag was even already erased.

9. A Waterproof/Dustproof/Shockproof Pentax Camera - Can I Ask for More?

I am always thankful to this gadget which I bought in a camera store in Quiapo in June 2011. It is very useful especially during rainy trek and river crossing. I can freely use it without worrying about being damaged.

However, almost a year after, I had it repaired when I found out that it got damaged by running water in one of the falls in Mt. Balagbag. Currently, I think the original battery should be replaced as it doesn't function well anymore. Perhaps, it was my fault that I don’t remove the battery when I store it.

10. Hang on, Cellphone Holder!

This one was generously given to me by a good friend, Rose De Leon. A zip-locked type cellphone holder which protects my gadgets, money and cards in the event of rain. I can always ensure that my things are protected and always hanged in my neck.

11. Pairs of Gloves

These very cheap pairs of gloves which I bought in a shopping centre and DENR shop in Mt. Pulag, respectively, are really helpful.

***The succeeding items  below represent how long I’ve been doing this hobby. These are the things that really last so far (of course including my Columbia pants) as these stuff were all bought during the time that I started in mountaineering.

12. My Glow in the Dark Nalgene Bottle

This was bought in December 2010 from a TNF store in SM Megamall. However, in June 2011, its handle was broken. Since then, I got used to it. Still, it’s here with me. It actually fell during our traverse in Mt. Pico de Loro, but thankfully it was saved and  recovered by a good companion from Busog Mountaineers. Thumbs up to this tough, useful liquid bottle! (Update: Handed over to the guide in Mt. Mantalingajan, Kuya Binoy, in May 2014 as a remembrance)

13. Proudly Light Towelite!

A blue medium-sized Towelite bought from Habagat Store in Megamall in December 2010. This was one of the  first items I was amazed at during that time because it isn’t bulky and easy to pack unlike any other normal towel.

14. Hit that Pitman Bush Hat!

I bought this one from Chris Sports in Market! Market! Mall. Until now, I still put reliance into this bush hat to protect me from too much sun exposure. (Update: Already given to a porter in Mt. Mantalingajan, Kuya Bulldog, in May 2014 as a remembrance)

15. Bonnets and Caps: Original vs. Imitation

Speaking of caps, hats and bonnets..

I couldnt believe I acquired this Columbia bonnet for Php600.00 when on the other hand, I was able to find below ear-covered blue bonnet from DENR store in Mt. Pulag for only Php50. Well, believe it or not, the Columbia bonnet seems to still be good as new.

The red cap in the first picture along with Columbia bonnet is an imitation of TNF cap which was a wish list in our BUSOG group Chirstmas Party in 2011. It’s fine though even if it’s just an imitation.
16. The Secret to Light Backpaking? Grab Your Compression Bags!

This waterproof snowbear and Conquer compression bag are the reasons for making my black TNF backpack intact which are enough to sustain me even up to 4 to 5-day trip. Thank you buddy Dennis for introducing these to me

16. Stove - My One and Only Camping Gear!

I do not have a tent and a cookset.  I normally join a group event which somebody can receive me or let me stay in their tent (hehe! parasite, eh?) and that cookset  is available in the meal group I belong. No, I'm not a user! I tied up being buddies with Dennis Hisanan, he has a tent and a cookset. In return, I have a portable stove which I bought in 2011. There are times when I was the one carrying it all - tent, cookset and stove - (but of course, all the foods should be handled by him) during our Banahaw and Halcon climb, and to my amazement, they were all perfectly fitted in my TNF Borealis backpack.

18. Earthpad for Sleeping Comfort

Here's what I also bought in 2010, a Camp Sandugo brand

20. "Shawl" me and Hug me!

Oh where on earth  is my shawl?? Hmm by the way, I prefer a Pashmina shawl since its fabric is warmer than any other type of cloth and it's sad to say that I bid goodbye to my favorite blue Pashmina which was recently blown away by strong winds in Mt. Batulao during our summit assault. Sad, sad, sad! I've been using it since 2010 and was given to me by my mother. It was very useful that I can sometimes use it an alternative to jacket because of the warmth and comfort it brings (aside from it's blue color of course, which is my favorite)

21. Cutieeee Climbing Buddies!

And how can I ever forget that I once became fascinated of bringing a stuff toy climbing buddy? Yes, it was my favorite cartoon character Snoopy that a good pen friend, Monique gave me. I named him Snoopy Doo. :-P

He has reached numerous summits already but in 2012, I don't know why I ceased bringing him. I just don't know. Perhaps, it would really come to a point when you would feel you don't have to bring such toy and a living buddy is enough.:-P

Charaaan! Here is a photo with buddy Dennis and another photo below is his former climbing buddy Dumbo (he also stopped bringing him to the climb, hehe)

That's all!

Well,  I am a buyer of both branded and cheap stuff.  See? I am a certified Ukay-ukay user, hehe! It is more likely that I am fan of cheap ones as I believe there are possible ways to avail a gear for a reasonable price. You know, I also have some financial obligations other than my mountaineering life. I'm just like anybody else who will buy those things that she thinks would just cost her less or if would buy the expensive ones, they were bought for the reasons that she could not compromise with the comfort, safety and trust in the gear.

Now, I'm wondering what other stuff are in store for me in the future.. say if ever I've been given a chance to  start alpine climbing. Yeah, of course, I need to update my gears.

For now, I am happy with all I've got.. really satisfied with these tangible companions during climb and travel. Most of all, I am thankful to the memories created using them and the safety they assured me.

...And I guess I am also a recipient of the generosity of my friends :-P
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